ACHRNEWS

Cool, Calm, Collected Makes for Great Work

January 25, 2010
Bill Phillips, president, Island Temperature Controls Ltd. (Feature photos by James Finlayson.)

Bill Phillips sets the tone at Island Temperature Controls Ltd., Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, which makes it a pleasure for employees to work there. Everyone at the company feels like they are all a team or part of the Island Temperature Controls family, thanks to Phillips.

“We’re like family, basically. We treat him as our dad. He would give you the shirt off his back if he had to help you out with something,” remarked Shane Fenwick, service manager.

It’s the caring that Phillips has for the employees, which is reflected in how he looks after them, and in turn the regard that they have for him that earned Island Temperature Controls the award of The NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For in the Canadian region.

An ex-employee nominated Phillips. That’s right, someone who doesn’t even work there anymore. That’s how highly Tye Leishman thinks of his former boss Bill Phillips and Island Temperature Controls Ltd.

For family reasons, Leishman and his wife left Victoria to move back to the small town Leishman grew up in and they started a HVAC business, Tempco Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Ltd. Phillips and Leishman have remained close though, despite the geographic separation. Leishman said, “Bill and I are best friends still to this day. We keep in touch on a bi-weekly basis.”

AT THE BEGINNING

Phillips has owned Island Temperature Controls since 1990, having purchased it from the previous owner. He was a plumber-pipefitter by trade and “got started in the controls industry when it was all pneumatic controls,” said Leishman. At that time, Phillips wanted to run more than just a successful business, he wanted a firm where people would be valued for their labor. He also wanted to create an atmosphere that would help foster the well-being of the staff when they were at work and on their personal time too, understanding that one part of a person’s life affects the other.

“When I first started in business, one of my main goals was to experience the gratification of succeeding in creating an environment that was a pleasant place to be and work,” stated Phillips. “I was confident that we could do a good job from a technical point of view, and I was determined to be sure that individuals were appreciated and respected for the effort that they make in the workplace.”

When Phillips took over the reins at Island Temperature Controls, five people worked there. It has now grown to 24 employees.

Fenwick and Leishman were among the first employees to be hired by Phillips. Another employee of the company, Fred Ormiston, manager of DDC systems projects, has been there for 28 years. Under Phillips, few employees of Island Temperature Controls have left the company.

According to Fenwick, “We’ve probably had four people retire, you might say, two left to start their own businesses, they felt they wanted to go out on their own, and one just didn’t work out.”

Dale Pittman, DDC system construction manager, commissions a Delta Controls direct digital control system.

FRINGE BENEFITS

The employees do have a desire to come to work every day and bring a commitment to do their job well. Island Temperature Controls supplies, installs, and maintains direct digital control systems and HVAC systems, so the employees are on call 24/7. For work, they have really nice vehicles to drive, and take home those vehicles so that they are prepared to go out on a call when the need arises.

Besides vehicles, the company also provides the tools that are used on the jobsite, so it saves the workers from having to purchase their own. Also, Island Temperature Controls provides a cell phone to the employees.

The Island Temperature Controls technicians - both the electricians and the HVAC technicians - belong to a union. The electricians are union members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, while the HVAC technicians belong to the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA) and receive various fringe benefits, including medical, dental, and optical insurance and a pension. According to Phillips, the office manager, receptionist, and bookkeeper receive a complete benefit package provided by UA 516 as well.

From time to time Phillips or Fenwick will take out an employee to lunch on a one-on-one basis. This lunch gives the employee a chance to discuss thoughts or concerns they might not feel at ease about discussing at work.

An activity the company also does for its employees is hold two parties a year, one in the summer and another at Christmas. The summer barbeque picnic is held for all the staff and their families, with games and other competitions, treasure hunts and prizes for all the kids, according to Phillips. The Christmas party is for the employees and their spouses.

Shane Fenwick, service manager, follows up with a customer on repair work completed recently.

TRAINING

The company supports and encourages training for workers at all levels, and even for those not out of school and working full-time yet. It aids the pre-apprenticeship HVAC training program at Malaspina College and the local high school mechanical trade programs, said Phillips.

“We contribute to these programs through involvement with the field work experience module in the programs. We believe that a pre-apprenticeship program is an important training component for new technicians. Our experience shows that graduates of the program generally excel in the trade and become exceptional professionals. This is certainly the case of two graduates of the Malaspina College program that we are fortunate to have on staff,” stated Phillips.

As the technicians belong to a union, there’s coursework training at the apprentice level, approximately 250 hours per year in training, which is supported by the company.

“Bill is obviously very highly motivated to get everybody through their apprenticeships and get them properly trained. We’ve never been a company to have any sort of unskilled labor. It’s always that our employees are working on some sort of an apprenticeship to get a designation at the end,” said Leishman.

For other types of technician training, the company covers the cost of the course fee, the technician’s time, and any related travel expenses. The learning continues in-house too, with Tech Talk held after the Wednesday morning company meeting. This training session reviews theory and the proper way to do things, such as servicing or calibrating equipment.

Other ways Phillips has encouraged his employees to learn has been to give them sample problems himself for them to work on overnight and bring back the next day, then Phillips and the employee will go over the problem together.

Grant Sjerven, HVAC technician and electrician, services a gas-fired boiler.

CHARITABLE WORKS

Phillips’ personal involvement with his employees doesn’t stop at training. When an employee is strapped for cash, Phillips has allowed the company to make the purchase for him. “If your furnace at home breaks or something and you can’t afford to buy one, we can buy one from a wholesaler on the company name and then pay it back later on down the road.”

This charity extends beyond the company staff, to customers, as well. “He’ll offer to finance people. We have a lot of customers around Victoria and not all of them have a deep pocketbook,” said Fenwick. “So, if something breaks and they can’t afford to fix it, but they need it fixed, Bill will offer to finance the job for them.

“We’ll do the job and then they’ll just pay however they set it up, whatever they can afford to pay. They’ll set it up as a monthly billing.”

The company is also active in raising money or in other ways contributing to charitable organizations to help the local community. Phillips is personally involved with the United Way, with a position as a fundraiser. The staff participates in raising money for the United Way, too.

In addition, the company sponsors local sporting events, such as triathlons and hockey tournaments. The company has sponsored amateur sports teams in such sports as baseball, box lacrosse, field lacrosse, soccer, football, and swimming, and the company sponsors numerous teams at any one time.

“All the technicians know, and it’s almost a bit of a joke, that if your son or daughter or spouse is involved with some sort of activity or team, you go see Bill for some money so he can sponsor you. … Being a commercial company, it’s not a situation that you’d really see the business benefit from the sponsorship. It’s more that the individual team reaps the benefit, and Bill is just happy to provide that level of sponsorship,” commented Leishman.

The Island Temperature Controls family includes the hard-working employees on the office staff.

THERE FOR LIFE

Though all the perks and the good deeds that the company does are very nice, the way the company is run is a key reason why all of Island Temperature Controls’ employees are lifers. The techs do their job without being micromanaged. They know the deadlines “and then we leave it alone, and it’s up to them to take care of it on their own,” said Fenwick.

It is Bill himself that has shaped the company into what it is today and motivates the workers to want to come to work every day. “He’s extremely compassionate and he’s not a spaz. He’s calm and collected no matter what’s going on,” said Fenwick. “He doesn’t have a temper, he doesn’t get out of hand. If you need help, you ask, and it’s there, no questions asked.”

Just the Facts: Best Contractor To Work For

CONTRACTOR: Island Temperature Controls Ltd.

PRESIDENT: Bill Phillips

LOCATION: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

YEARS IN BUSINESS UNDER PHILLIPS: 20

BULK OF MARKET: Commercial and Institutional

TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 24

TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND DDC SYSTEM INSTALLERS AND PROGRAMMERS: 21

AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: Approximately 250 hours per year as apprentices, beyond the apprentice level, 11-20 hours.

BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: The company provides a vehicle and cell phone. The techs take home the company vehicles and the company provides all the tools and equipment required to do the work. Techs and other staff members have a benefits package. Pay increases are provided annually, and the union technicians are paid according to their level of qualification. The company holds a Christmas party for employees and their spouses and the other, a summer party, for employees and their families. For training beyond the apprentice level, the company pays the course fees, the technician’s time, and any related travel expenses.

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: Vancouver Island Construction Association, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Canadian Federation of Independent Business, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA) Local 516, UA Local 324, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 230; is ISO 9001:2000 Certified

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: As Shane Fenwick, service manager said, Bill Phillips is “a phenomenal employer, and not just an employer but a human being as well. He’s extremely compassionate. So, just as a general employee … it’s a joy to come here to work.” It also says a lot that a former employee would nominate an ex-employer. Tye Leishman, the former employee, said of owner Bill Phillips, “He’s more than generous and more than understanding of the demands and requirements on the technicians, so really, anything that a tech requires as far as tools or training or vehicles or whatever it is, he makes sure the technicians are supplied with it. Definitely, you’re not going to find any better compensation anywhere in the industry.”

Publication date: 01/25/2010